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The NBA’s race for the West No. 8 seed is an embarrassing disaster

There are eight bad teams in the Western Conference ... and one of them is going to make the playoffs. We suss them out.

Portland Trail Blazers v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There are seven good teams in the Western Conference that range from the extremely good Warriors and Spurs to the pretty good Grizzlies and Thunder. The top three teams are each on pace for at least 60 wins. The No. 7 seed is on pace for 46 wins. This group is setting up a very nice looking playoff bracket in the West.

And then there is the No. 8 seed.

This spot has been passed between the Lakers, Kings, Blazers, and Nuggets since the early days of the season. Denver currently holds it thanks to a modest three-game win streak. The Nuggets are 17-23, on pace for just 35 wins. That’s bad.

What’s worse is that every bad team behind Denver is still in the race. The Suns are an abysmal 13-28, on pace for 26 wins ... and they are only 4.5 games out of the playoffs!

Below, we break down each sad team in the race. Remember: one of them will make the playoffs.


Current record: 17-23

On pace to go: 35-47

Games out of No. 8: Currently in the No. 8 spot

Why they want to make the playoffs: Denver has a young team that would benefit from getting destroyed by the Warriors for four straight games. Denver is also in a market where the franchise could use the home gate revenue from two postseason games. The Nuggets basically leveraged a roster spot and cap space into a cash grab this week by trading for Mo Williams. (Other teams would leverage the space into a future second.) Head coach Michael Malone could absolutely use a playoff berth to justify his hype, especially if Denver finishes in the mid-30s in wins.

Why they are nice: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Next question.

Why they are sad: This team is horrifically inconsistent, especially on defense. And Emmanuel Mudiay is not ready to be an NBA point guard without a ball-dominant two-guard next to him. In any other season, we’d consider this team straight-up bad and a lock to shop veterans like Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler. Alas.


Current record: 18-26

On pace to go: 34-48

Games out of No. 8: One

Why they want to make the playoffs: The Blazers made the second round last season, destroying expectations in a post-LaMarcus Aldridge world. There is no avoiding the fact that they have come crashing back to Earth. But at least making the playoffs and getting (chuckles) a rematch with the Warriors would dull the sharp edge of this snap back to reality.

Why they are nice: Damian Lillard is still a monster, and his clutch work is magnifico. The more we get of end-game Dame, the better. Also, Jason Concepcion’s season-long running joke about Mason Plumlee’s (MASON PLUMLEE) quest for a triple-double (“when, not if”) is glorious.

Why they are sad: Festus Ezeli has apparently given three locker room speeches (a pep talk, a scalding that other players shut down, and a farewell address) this season. He has not appeared in any games.


Current record: 17-26

On pace to go: 32-50

Games out of No. 8: 1.5

Why they want to make the playoffs: They need that playoff revenue, they need to get Anthony Davis more national attention (he’s having one of the best big man seasons in 20 years) and they need to convince Jrue Holiday he should re-sign in the summer. Dell Demps’ job as GM is also almost assuredly on the line.

Why they are nice: Anthony Davis and, uh, Buddy Hield?

Why they are sad: King Cake Baby season is over.


Current record: 16-25

On pace to go: 32-50

Games out of No. 8: 1.5

Why they want to make the playoffs: The Kings are in a new arena and desperately want to be able to show that arena off to a national audience with a rocking crowd in April. There’s also the matter of ending DeMarcus Cousins’ run as the best NBA player without a playoff game under his belt.

Why they are nice: Boogie is the most entertaining character on television.

Why they are sad: No comment.


Current record: 14-27

On pace to go: 28-54

Games out of No. 8: 3.5

Why they want to make the playoffs: I mean, beyond getting Dirk Nowitzki another moment in the spotlight? For Harrison Barnes jokes? They don’t actually want to make the playoffs, and would almost assuredly prefer to finish at the bottom of the conference at this point. They play too hard to be bad enough.

Why they are nice: They are not nice in any way, shape or form. Credit to Wesley Matthews and crew for working hard, though.

Why they are sad: The Mavericks are not inherently sad but instead define how sad this “playoff race” has become. Dallas started the season 4-17 and are somehow in the playoff race!


Current record: 14-28

On pace to go: 27-55

Games out of No. 8: Four

Why they want to make the playoffs: The Wolves were one of the few teams down here who had widespread expectations to be in the playoff mix. With Tom Thibodeau, Karl-Anthony Towns, and a nice young core, the sky remains the limit. But gravity has been fierce. Coming out with a No. 8 seed — even in this season — would be a nice trophy on the shelf.

Why they are nice: Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine are joys to watch.

Why they are sad: No one expected them to be this bad, even Minnesota Year 1 skeptics like myself. Just about every game is a reminder of how far the Wolves have yet to go. This ain’t the ‘09 Thunder.


Current record: 15-31

On pace to go: 27-55

Games out of No. 8: Five

Why they want to make the playoffs: Do it for Uncle Swaggy. Do it for Jim Buss’ future.

Why they are nice: The young squad plays an entertaining style under Luke Walton, which is more than most of these other teams can say. And Larry Nance can dunk like hell.

Why they are sad: This is legitimately a bottom-three team in the entire league. It is patently absurd that they could end up anywhere near a playoff race.


Current record: 13-28

On pace to go: 26-56

Games out of No. 8: 4.5

Why they want to make the playoffs: Do they?

Why they are nice: Are they?

Why they are: Have you seen the Phoenix Suns?